4 Ways to Bulletproof Your Body
For the purpose of endurance sports, let’s classify the body into two separate systems: the central and peripheral systems. The central system is comprised of your heart and lungs, your aerobic system. The peripheral system is made up of your muscles, tendons, joints, bones, and connective tissues. Your central system is like the engine of the car, propelling it faster and longer than before. Your peripheral system would be the chassis, suspension, and transmission…they don’t make the car go faster, but they provide the platform for which the engine can perform!
Training works. We know it works, and it has been proven by science and research many times over. If you are relatively untrained and you do some training, your body adapts and becomes fitter. In its basic form, training is very simple. However, most of the focus tends to be on the development of speed, power, and endurance. And rightly so, we are endurance athletes after all. We want to build and improve our engines’ capacity for work so that we can swim harder, bike longer, and run faster.
For many time strapped endurance athletes trying to juggle work, family, and training, our focus is typically on developing our central system with no time left for anything else. As a physical therapist I can attest to the dire need for the majority of athletes to devote some time to their chassis, and not just for injury reduction but for performance benefits as well.
I’ve talked before about how our tissues have a certain capacity for work, and when the acute or chronic load of training exceeds that tissues’ capacity, we become injured. This represents the durability (or lack thereof) of our peripheral system. If we can improve the durability of our muscles, tendons, and joints, we will avoid injury and improve our bodies ability to perform and absorb the training stimulus. A durable athlete will be able to consistently train without injury, and we know that consistency of training over the course of a long season yields the greatest central system improvements.
This is even more important if you have dealt with injury, which inherently causes as decrease in tissue capacity and durability. Even if it was a minor injury, if steps aren’t taken to improve your tissue strength, you are much more likely to re-injure. The biggest predictor of future injury is having a previous injury, especially if it was not properly rehabbed. If this sounds like you, see a physical therapist to help guide you towards the most appropriate exercises for you. Once you are back to baseline, then you can work to increase tissue capacity.
Here are 4 easy ways to help build durability:
Hit the gym: the post season and early season is the best time to perform resistance training. Adding novel and varied stimulus, compared to the usual swim/bike/run of endurance sport, will provide added stress to muscles, tendons, and joints signaling adaptation in the body to build more resilient tissues. Don't be afraid to lift heavy!
Hiking/snow-shoeing: most beneficial in hilly or mountainous areas. Hiking steep uphill and downhill will work your legs differently and help build strength particularly in glutes, quad, and calves. Don’t have mountains? Start walking the stairs or incline on the treadmill.
Cross training: In its truest form, performing training that crosses your typical movement patterns. This will help build resiliency and develop greater neuromuscular control of your body.
Walking/standing more: increasing stress to your peripheral system doesn’t always have to be with heavy weights. Try standing all day after you’ve completed your morning training sessions, the added time on your feet will be surprisingly tiring.
By planning some focus on developing robustness in our tissues, we can bulletproof ourselves to a long and healthy season. Increasing the strength and durability of our chassis will allow us to fully unleash the power and desire of our engine without the fear of injury.